Pakistan: Woman Farmer Curbs Hunger Cycle With Food Aid

Bakhtawar Mai, a community leader and farmer in southeastern Pakistan, turned in a bumper crop this year thanks to WFP food assistance. Photo: WFP/Amjad Jamal

Bakhtawar Mai turned in a great harvest this year, which means she finally grew enough food to feed her family. This was possible because a little food aid at the right time enabled her to cover her immediate food needs and, at the same time, buy enough seeds for the year ahead.

ISLAMABAD – A village leader and woman farmer, Bakhtawar knows all too well about the problems facing farmers in the southeastern Sindh province. Dry weather over the past two years has driven up food prices to levels millions of people can no longer afford. But instead of growing more, farmers are growing less because the costs of seed and fertilizer have shot up as well.

“We are very poor and often have to borrow these things from local dealers, who don’t always deliver on time because we can’t pay up front,” says Bakhtawar. So prices keep climbing, pushing more and more people into the ranks of the hungry poor.

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Breaking the cycle

This year, however, 23,000 farmers like Bakhtawar put a stop to the downward spiral. Instead of going into debt, they received 400 kg of wheat to last them through the lean season before harvest. That enabled them to buy seeds, fertilizers and water pumps that growers like Bakhtawar used to plant a bumper crop.

“My harvest was excellent this year. I produced almost twice as much wheat as I did the year before,” she says. Bakhtawar is as relieved as she is excited. This season saw a 30 per cent drop in rainfall, which would have spelled disaster without irrigation.

Having produced more food last year, she should not need food aid this year to get through the lean season. The cycle has been broken.

The sacks of wheat behind her successful harvest were made possible by a grant from the European Union Food Facility Fund, which gave €40 million ($50.5 million USD) to support a joint effort by UN agencies like WFP and the government to address climbing food prices.

Landless poor

The project’s next target are Pakistan’s landless poor, who’ve been hit hardest by the price hikes and account for many of the 4 million people thrust into hunger since 2008.

To help them, WFP and its partners are setting up schemes that will provide food to 20,000 people around the country in return for work on community building projects like a network of irrigation canals and rainwater-harvesting gutters and basins.

The programme will benefit some 250,000 people with either food to eat in the short-term or assets that will help them prosper in the long-run. Find out more about Food for Work programmes.